by Cyrile Sincok
This September, I attended a four week Zoom presentation sponsored by Earth Literacies and given by Douglas Christie, author of The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology (2013). Christie received his M.A. in Theology from Oxford University and his Ph.D. in Christian Spirituality from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. He specializes in Eco-Spirituality
In his presentation, Christie speaks of “cultivating a sense of place in a time of loss.” I had previously learned about the loss of place caused by the devastating effects of Climate Change. Excessive heat, droughts, fires, hurricanes, rising sea levels, and other climate-related disasters have caused thousands of people to flee their homes in search of a better and safer way of life. Christie speaks to these losses and the resulting disruption of spirituality and restlessness experienced in our daily lives.
Christie points out that “that there are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places” (Wendall Berry). He encourages us to seek out the lost or forgotten sacred places in our lives and reconnect with them – to look for our roots, remarking that rootlessness is a fact of our shared existence and that Simone Weil tells us that “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”
We could ask ourselves questions such as “Where have we lived and how have the places in which we lived or visited shaped our lives? What do those places mean to us now? What are the stories associated with these places? Through reflection, can we discover the sacredness of the place and wonder if indeed Jesus did meet us there (Mt 26:32)?
Can we come home to ourselves through reflection on the places we have been? Christie tells us that home is our corner of the world, our first universe, and a real cosmos in every sense of the word.
In going home, we come to know where in our lives God has been present and is now present to us. Perhaps it is a beautiful scene in the mountains, a flowing river, a mighty ocean. Perhaps it is our childhood home, our family. We come to recognize that there have been thin places in our lives where the veil is lifted. We come to see that those places are not only part of our individual and community identity but also part of our identity within the whole of the natural world.
Christie points out that often we find ourselves yearning for the lost places of the past. Rekindling our memories of those places and finding out what is it about those places that is calling to us now, revisiting those places and telling or writing down our stories becomes a contemplative practice.
Contemplative practices begin with listening and paying attention. When we are able to see differently, devotion begins. Mary Oliver says “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
For me, attending Christie’s prayerful presentation and reading his thoughtful and enriching book has opened avenues for remembering. Reflecting on the places I have been reminds me now of the excitement, awe and wonder of when I first encountered them. The glimpses were wordless and amazing and I have never forgotten any of them.
* Note: Information based on notes taken during the Presentations